Tag Archives: authors

Maggie Arrives at Mayfair Library

Maggie Arrives, by Yara EvansOn Wednesday 8 March, author Yara Evans visited Mayfair Library to read from her book, Maggie Arrives, which is based on the antics of real-life foxes that have visited Yara’s back garden for several years now.

‘Maggie Arrives’ is the first in a series of stories entitled ‘The Adventures of an Urban Fox’.

Yara Evans at Mayfair Library, March 2017Around 30 children and adults came along to Mayfair Children’s Library to hear Maggie’s story and to learn about the beauty of wild foxes.  They received photos of Maggie as well as fox-themed stickers and pencils.

The afternoon was both entertaining and educational and enjoyed by all!

[Rachel]

Ali Smith in Charing Cross Library

More than fifty people braved a cold wet Monday evening to come to prize-winning author Ali Smith‘s inspiring talk in praise of public libraries.

Author Ali Smith at Charing Cross Library, February 2017

Public Library and other stories by Ali SmithThe audience was enthralled for the whole 45 minutes of Ali’s talk in Charing Cross Library. She gave a fiercely intelligent, passionate and valuable insight into the role libraries play and why we need them so much, as well as how she came to gather the material for her book Public Library and other stories.

After the talk, she signed copies of her books that people had brought with them. A fantastic evening.

Author Ali Smith at Charing Cross Library, February 2017

[Helen]

Arthur sends his apologies

The apology of Arthur Tresbit by Robert Thayer

“Arthur Tresbit is about to cause the destruction of civilisation as we know it… And for that he’s very sorry.”

Robert ThayerAuthor Robert Thayer gave a balanced and interesting talk about the nature of high finance, and in particular the financial crash of 2008, to the Paddington Library Reading Group recently.
The illustrated talk formed a backdrop to his recently published novel, The Apology of Arthur Tresbit, an amusing fictional account of an ordinary man who destroys the world financial system.

To find out more about forthcoming events at Paddington Library, visit our News & events page.

[Laurence]

From woof to tra la la la la

Mayfair Library held two heartwarming events last week.

Dodger Dog balloonOn Monday 28 November, Karen Gee read her book, ‘How I Became Dodger Dog!’, which is based on the true story of how an unwanted little Staffie puppy found his ‘forever home’.
Around 30 excited children came to Mayfair Children’s Library after school to hear Dodger’s story and to receive stickers and balloons.

The reading was warmly received by children and parents alike and was both entertaining and educational, promoting responsible dog ownership. Signed copies were available to buy, with 25% of the profits going to dog charities throughout the world.

Mayfair Community Choir at Mayfair Library, November 2016

The next day, Christmas started early when the Mayfair Community Choir performed their Welsh-themed Christmas concert. There were readings from A child’s Christmas in Wales, interspersed with verse and carols. The evening finished with wine and welsh snacks.

Mayfair Community Choir at and their 'I love my librarian' badges at Mayfair Library, November 2016The choir all wore badges proclaiming ‘I love my Librarian’ and made a rousing plea to all present to express their support for librarians in Westminster.

[Katrina]

The great and the good

George Ryan, pictured in bas relief at the base of Nelson's Column, London

All of us who live or work in Westminster have walked through Trafalgar Square dozens of times, but how many of us have actually looked at Nelson’s Column  properly? Certainly not me until recently when I happened to look at the bas-reliefs at the base of the pillar and wondered what they actually represented. Coincidentally on the bus home I heard a trailer for an excellent-sounding radio programme, Britain’s Black Past which mentioned the reliefs and revealed that at least one of the sailors pictured was black. A bit of research revealed that a third of the crew of the Victory, Nelson’s ship, were born outside Britain (including, somewhat surprisingly, three Frenchmen) and that one of the men pictured, George Ryan, was black.

As we celebrate Black History Month, what other memorials of interest can we find in Westminster?

Well, for a start there’s the oldest monument in London – Cleopatra’s Needle. Nothing to do with Cleopatra, it actually predates her by 1500 years, being made for Pharoah Thotmes III. One slightly odd feature of the Needle is that the four sphinxes, ostensibly there to guard it, actually face inwards so you’d think they’d be fairly easy to surprise…

Cleopatra's Needle, London

Moving forward to the eighteenth century brings us to Ignatius Sancho (1724-1780) who, despite pretty much the worst possible start in life (he was born on  slave ship and both his parents died soon after) became butler to the Duke of Montagu and, after securing his freedom, was the only eighteenth-century Afro-Briton known to have voted in a general election (in Westminster). He wrote many letters to the literary figures of the time such as the actor David Garrick and the writer Laurence Sterne, was painted by Thomas Gainsborough and was also a prolific composer.

IgnatiusSancho

You can read more about Sancho in several books available to view at Westminster City Archives, and listen to some of his compositions.

And if you happen to be passing the Foreign and Commonweath Office, see if you can spot the memorial to him.

A more famous near-contemporary of Sancho, was Olaudah Equiano (1747-1797), another former slave and author of one of the earliest autobiographies by a black Briton.

Olaudah Equiano

Like George Ryan, Equiano (or Gustavus Vassa as he was known in his lifetime) was a sailor who travelled to the Caribbean, South America and the Arctic, having been kidnapped from Africa as a child. While still a slave, Equiano converted to Christianity and was baptised in St Margaret’s Westminster. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano was one of the first slave narratives and was reprinted several times in Equiano’s lifetime. He became a leading member of the  abolitionist movement, as one of the Sons of Africa, a group of former slaves in London who campaigned against slavery. You can see a plaque to him at 73 Riding House Street, Paddington and see him portrayed  by Youssoo N’Dour in the  film Amazing Grace.

Olaudah Equiana Plaque, London

One black Briton who needs almost no introduction is Mary Seacole (1805-1881), who fought racial prejudice to nurse and feed  soldiers in the Crimea and who was so popular with her former patients that the Times reported on 26th April 1856 that, at a public banquet at the Royal Surrey Gardens:

“Among the illustrious visitors was Mrs Seacole whose appearance awakened the most raputurous enthusiasm. The soldiers not only cheered her but chaired her around the gardens and she really might have suffocated from the oppressive attentions of her admirers were it not that two sergeants of extraordinary stature gallantly undertook to protect her from the pressures of the crowd.”

You can follow the famous war correspondent WH Russell in the Times Digital Archive (log in with your library card number) – he was a great admirer of Mrs Seacole. And if you haven’t already, do read her extraordinary autobiography The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. There are two plaques in her honour in Westminster – one at 147 George Street and one at 14 Soho Square.

Mary Seacole

Less well-known than Mary Seacole  is Henry Sylvester Williams (1869-1911), a Trinidadian teacher who came to London in the 1890s, studied Latin at King’s College and qualified as a barrister in 1897 (though he earned his living as a lecturer for the Temperance Association). He was a founder-member of the Pan-African Association, whose aims were

“to secure civil and political rights for Africans and their descendants throughout the world; to encourage African peoples everywhere in educational, industrial and commercial enterprise; to ameliorate the condition of the oppressed Negro in Africa, America, the British Empire, and other parts of the world”

In 1906, Williams was elected as a Progressive for Marylebone Council and, along with John Archer in Battersea, was one of the first black people elected to public office in Britain. You can read more about Williams (and the other people listed here) in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and see a plaque erected by Westminster Council in his honour at 38 Church Street.

Bringing us nearer the present day are two former residents of Westminster who everyone knows. Guitarist Jimi Hendrix, discussed before in this blog, lived for a short time in 1968 at 23 Brook Street, Mayfair, and you can see a blue plaque to him there.

Jimi Hendrix, blue plaque

And we finish on perhaps the most famous memorial of recent years – in 2007 a bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was erected in Parliament Square in the presence of Mr Mandela himself.

Nelson Mandela stature, Parliament Square

You can find out more about the people in this blog by checking out our library catalogue and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as well as our Newspaper Archives. Plus if you want to know who the first Black British woman to write an autobiography was, don’t miss the event at Paddington Library on 27 October!

[Nicky]

Paddington Book Festival and Silver Sunday

Paddington LibraryIt’s been a busy couple of months at Paddington Library! No sooner had the flurry of children’s activities for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge come to an end than it was time for all the many and varied regular events to build up again. But that was not all – there was the Paddington Book Festival to come, followed closely by Silver Sunday.

The Paddington Book Festival is an annual festival which has been has been running for several years. Instigated and supported by a local Westminster Councillor, it is a series of book and reading-related events in September with the aim of engaging the local community in cultural and literary activity. Events do not take place solely in Paddington Library, however – they are spread across four libraries in the north of the Borough.

Queens Park Library hosted Kiera Cohen who introduced her début children’s book Tilly McAnilly and the Rock Pool Adventure. Maida Vale Library hosted a splendiferous party to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Roald Dahl. Paddington Library hosted two events devoted to crime fiction: Elizabeth Flynn spoke about her novels which feature detective Inspector Angela Costello and there was a well attended panel talk given by authors Lisa Cutts and Simon Booker. Finally author MG Robinson visited Church Street Library to discuss her book Sledge: the Soul of Notting Hill, about the life and times of her father, the very first ‘Rasta man of Notting Hill’.

The first weekend in October is now the established date for Silver Sunday, an annual day celebrating older people. We have already reported on a couple of the other Silver Sunday events that took place in Westminster Libraries, but there were many more both on the day itself and the weeks before and after, including those at Paddington Library: For the first time this year, Owen arranged and led bespoke IT workshops on Online Family History and Online Shopping. Lots of people enjoyed chair yoga with Tim or took part in a play reading led by Kate and Laurence from Oscar Wilde’s ‘An Ideal Husband’. Additonal taster IT sessions completed the programme.

Silver Sunday 2016 at Paddington Library

Will we be having a rest now? Of course not! Take a look at our events page or follow @WCCLibraries on Twitter to find out what’s next (tip: career networking, Black History Month and spooky Halloween half-term events are on the agenda so far).

[Laurence]

A Bear of Very Little Brain

Commuters reading the London Evening News on Christmas Eve 1925 would have seen a new children’s story called ‘The Wrong Sort of Bees’, featuring the first appearance of a honey-loving bear. What the readers wouldn’t have known is that this wasn’t the last they would hear of this particular bear. Ten months later, on 14 October 1924, Winnie-the-Pooh was published and everyone’s favourite bear appeared between hard covers for the first time.

Opening page of Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne

Pooh’s creator, AA (Alan Alexander) Milne (1882-1956) grew up in Kilburn, where his father ran Henley House school. The school boasted HG Wells as one of its teachers and for a time Wells did teach the young Milne. He then went onto Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge where he made the right contacts and was able to get a job working on Punch. As well as writing comic essays and sketches he found success as a a novelist and as a playwright (The Dover Road was recently revived at Jermyn Street Theatre) but it was as a writer for children that he found lasting fame.

In 1921 Milne bought a teddy bear at Harrods for his baby son Christopher Robin which was soon named after Winnipeg, a Canadian bear in London Zoo. Winnipeg was a female bear which presumably accounts for the nickname Winnie. Young Christopher’s toys also included a donkey, a kangaroo and a piglet and later a tiger (but no owl). These toys, along with Christopher Robin himself found themselves appearing in Milne’s stories. The initial 1925 publication in the London Evening News was followed in 1926 by Winnie-the-Pooh, with The House at Pooh Corner following in 1928.

The books were instant successes. Christopher Milne found himself a rather unwilling celebrity and the subject of much teasing at school. Eventually he left London and spent many happy years running a bookshop in Dartmouth, Devon.

Incidentally, you can see Winnie, Piglet, Kanga and friends on display in the New York Public Library, where they are kept in captivity and much appreciate visitors from home… [see post script below]

Map inside cover of Winnie the Pooh, by A A Milne

For many of us, our enjoyment of the stories owes as much to the charming pictures as to the text. And these were drawn by another Londoner – EH (Ernest Howard) Shepard (1879-1976), who spent much of his life in St John’s Wood. He was born at 55 Springfield Road and in the 1930s lived in a splendid house in Melina Place with his son Graeme, whose own bear Growler was the model for Shepard’s drawings of Pooh. Shepard, of course, also drew the most famous set of illustrations for The Wind in the Willows (which AA Milne dramatised as Toad of Toad Hall) and he wrote a charming memoir of his St John’s Wood childhood called Drawn from Memory. This includes his memories of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and the famous 1887 fire that completely destroyed Whiteley’s department store (then in Westbourne Grove) which could be seen from Highgate Hill. You can see a plaque to EH Shepard at another of his Westminster homes – 10 Kent Terrace, Regents Park.

EH Shepard illustration from Winnie-the-Pooh

You can find out more about AA and Christopher Robin Milne and EH Shepard in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card number). You may also wish to look at the splendid bound volumes of Punch held by Westminster Reference Library.

Christopher RobinWinnie the PoohAnd of course, you’ll find plenty of Disney DVDs in our children’s libraries though you’ll have to try to ignore the American accents and the incongruous Gopher – we all know the real Pooh was a true Londoner!

[Nicky]

Post script: Catherine Cooke of the Sherlock Holmes Collection has paid several visits to Pooh and friends in their New York home, and sent these great pictures to share:

Winnie the Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library, January 2015. Picture credit: Catherine Cooke  Winnie the Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library, January 2015. Picture credit: Catherine Cooke